I had kind of been putting off a Happy New Year update on the blog because honestly, not much has been happening since my last post. We’re just trying to make it through winter, and we had some really nice schoolings at Loch Moy over their arena cross-country course with friends and a few good jump schools at home.
My friends had started to ask if I was thinking about the next season, and I had a general plan in my head. We had a nice lesson at Morningside with Lisa on Jan. 24, then I decided to give Oh So two days off. We hacked on Wednesday, and I thought he felt maybe slightly weird in walk, tracking with his haunches a bit to the left, but he got better as we went. The weather was terribly cold that Thursday, so he had a day off and a nice groom in the stall. By Friday when I went to get him in the field, he was acting neurologic in walk, so I immediately called the vet.
His haunches were to the left in walk, and he had a tail tilt that way too. She diagnosed him with EPM based on visual symptoms and a neurologic test, so we immediately started him on the anti-protozoa medication Protazil and Vitamin E.
To say I was in shock was an understatement. Where the hell did this come from? He’s been perfectly healthy with no signs other than on Wednesday.
It felt like my life had come crashing down. I know he’ll be retired eventually, but he’s been going so well, and shows no signs of slowing down. If he retires, I’m left with nothing other than a mountain of debt and no savings to get my next horse. My life revolves around him and has for the last 13 years. I’m just not ready for it to be over.
I spent a week crying at home and every time I saw him. We put him in a small paddock because we’ve been having back to back winter storms, and we didn’t want him to slip. He didn’t seem to be getting any better 10 days in, and was starting to be in pain from shifting to the left all the time. It was hard to watch. I took him for hand walks to the nearest patch of grass, but he would trip while grazing and began to be lame from behind.
I finally decided to get a second opinion just to rule out anything else, which I learned from the first vet could be neck arthritis, although being on Banamine for a few days hadn’t helped, and he was using his head and neck fine, so that was unlikely. We do know he was arthritis in his neck based on X-rays from when he had strangles. His bloodwork came back about a week later and confirmed his numbers were 1:500 for exposure to EPM, which is not high, but the vet explained to me that the number doesn’t correspond to the severity of the disease.
The second vet took one look at him and was fairly certain it’s EPM. He recommended a compounded drug made of DMSO and toltrazuril, which is something a few friends had mentioned they’d also tried with success after he recommended it.
About two days after the second vet came, I started seeing improvement in his walk. It was less crooked, and he seemed slightly more comfortable. The new meds arrived on Friday, which was two weeks since his initial diagnosis, and I decided to try them. The second vet said he’s never had luck with Protazil and that it’s being trialled as an EPM preventative these days, so at least I could continue to use it after he’s better twice a week to use it up. $800 for that! The compounded medication was $180, and since he’ll likely be on something for a few months, that seemed like the better option.
As of today, he’s walking almost normally. It’s kind of miraculous. He’s able to walk over poles and is very eager to go on hand walks down the driveway. He’s not tripping while grazing, and I can now pick up all four of his feet without a problem. A week ago I was considering what would happen if he got down and couldn’t get up. Where would I bury him? Would I cremate him? How would I be able to go on without him in my life?
I’m thrilled that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. This is something I have no experience with and never would have expected in a million years. I have no idea where we go from here, other than finishing up a month’s worth of Toltrazuril. When will he be safe to ride? Will he ever be? With the progress so far I feel like there’s hope. I don’t think he deserves to be forced into retirement because of this terrible disease, and I believe he’s strong. I’ve never been an optimist, but I’m learning to be strong through this horrible situation. The second vet believes there’s a chance he can be ridden again because he didn’t start out with any muscle atrophy. That can be harder to come back from.
This horse is keeping me connected to the sport I love well past his peak because he loves it. I’m not sure what my future will be, and to think about not being able to ride and compete is devastating. It’s in my blood. It’s a part of me. I’m so thankful I’m able to ride a nice mare at the barn, and we’re hoping to get to some dressage shows this spring, but running and jumping is my real passion. It’s a privilege to get to ride Oh So, and I’ve learned to never take one day for granted at his age and after all we’ve been through. His enthusiasm for life is infectious, and he’s given me more confidence over the last 13 years than I think any horse ever could.
This still feels like some nightmare I can’t wake up from, but to go to the barn everyday and see him acting more like himself and happier makes me hopeful I’ll be able to look between his ears again.